Britain is considering tough diplomatic measures, including the possible recall of its ambassador to Tel Aviv, in response to Israel’s announcement of settlement expansion. Its move followed the United Nations general assembly voting to recognise the Palestinian state.
The recall of the British ambassador would be a dramatic and unprecedented rebuke to the Israeli government, whose isolation was sharply illustrated by the overwhelming backing for the state of Palestine in New York last week. Only eight countries out of 193 rallied to Israel’s side in opposing the move.
Britain is furious at Israel’s decision to take punitive measures, including the authorisation of 3,000 new settler homes and the development of land east of Jerusalem known as E1 for settlement construction.
The development of E1 has been frozen for years under pressure from the US and EU. Western diplomats regard it as a “game-changer” as its development would close off East Jerusalem – the future capital of Palestine – from the West Bank.
Britain has demanded that Israel rescind the decision. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said the settlement expansion plans “would represent an almost fatal blow to the remaining chances of securing a two-state solution”.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said such expansion “may represent a strategic step undermining the prospects of a contiguous and viable Palestine with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both it and Israel”.
The British Foreign Office has not reached firm decisions on its response, but it is understood to be considering the fullest range of options, including the recall of its ambassador Matthew Gould and consul-general Vincent Fean for further discussions.
France is also considering similar action. Britain would be more inclined to forge ahead with such a dramatic diplomatic rebuke in co-ordination with other EU countries.
Other possible steps under consideration are sanctions against settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including tougher measures on the labelling of settlement produce exported to Europe, and the suspension of strategic dialogue meetings.
The UK and other EU countries had warned Israel against taking punitive action in response to the UN vote. A statement issued by the British embassy in Tel Aviv said: “The Foreign Secretary has consistently made it very clear that the UK would not support a strong reaction to Thursday’s UNGA resolution that undermined the prospects for negotiations and efforts to build a strong foundation for the peace process. The recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units threatens the two-state solution and makes progress through negotiations harder to achieve. We have called on the Israeli government to reconsider.”
The Israeli cabinet unanimously rejected the UN vote at its weekly meeting on Sunday. It described the West Bank as “disputed territory” over which the Jewish people had “a natural right”.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, had described Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s behaviour as “unfathomable”.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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